ESTEVAN - The Centennial Cup national junior A hockey championship, presented by Tim Hortons, is one of the most prestigious tournaments in Canada, and it is coming to Estevan for the first time.
The tournament has been expanded to 10 teams this year, with representatives from each of the nine leagues joining the host Estevan Bruins for the tournament, which runs from May 19-29.
Here’s a look at each of the teams from Pool A who will be competing:
ESTEVAN BRUINS (Host team and SJHL champions):
How they qualified: The Bruins were awarded the tournament back in 2019, and have remained the host team for 2022 despite all of the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But they aren’t taking the back door in, either, as they had the best record in the league during the regular season, and they won the SJHL championship for the first time since 1999, beating the Flin Flon Bombers in a thrilling seven-game series.
Players to watch: Forward Mark Rumsey led the SJHL in goals this season with 39 and finished second in points with 76 in 56 games, and Olivier Pouliot was second with 65 points in 56 games. Goaltender Boston Bilous won the SJHL playoff MVP award with a 12-4 record, a 2.0 goals against average and two shutouts.
Schedule: The Bruins will open May 20 against Collège Français de Longueuil, who won the Ligue de Hockey Junior AAA du Quebec. Then they will face the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Pickering Panthers on May 21, the Red Lake Miners of the Superior International Junior Hockey League on May 23 and the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League on May 25 to wrap up the round robin. All Bruin games will start at 7:30 p.m.
BROOKS BANDITS (Albert Junior Hockey League)
How they qualified: The Bandits have been one of the top junior A programs in the country in recent years. They won the Centennial Cup as the host team when the tournament last took place in 2019. They also won nationals in 2013, and also lost in overtime in the 2017 final.
They were the top-ranked team in the country for virtually all of the season. Brooks defeated the Spruce Grove Saints in five games to advance to the Centennial Cup.
Players to watch: The Bandits have three players who finished the season with at least 100 points: Ryan McAllister (57 goals and 139 points), T.J. Hughes (66 goals and 127 points) and Zach Bookman (21 goals and 102 points). McAllister was named the MVP of the Canadian Junior Hockey League for the regular season, while Bookman was selected as the top defenceman. Bookman is ranked 163rd overall in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Those top players are surrounded by a strong supporting cast.
Schedule: The Bandits will open against Collège Français de Longueuil from Quebec at 7:30 p.m. on May 19. Then they will play the Miners at noon on May 21, the Panthers at noon on May 24 and the Bruins at 7:30 p.m. on May 25.
RED LAKE MINERS (Superior International Junior Hockey League)
How they qualified: The Miners finished second in their league during the regular season with a 28-6-1 record. They won the Bill Salonen Cup, defeating the Kam River Fighting Walleye in six games. Kam River was the top team during the regular season. The championship was the first for the Miners in their history.
The Miners might wind up being the darlings of fans looking for an underdog. Their season was interrupted for seven weeks due to a failure in the ice plant chiller and a COVID-19 shutdown for many sports in Ontario. They have also encountered challenges in getting to Estevan due to flooding in the area.
The Miners will also be trying to become the first SIJHL team to win a national championship.
Players to watch: Jordan Baranesky was their top scorer in the regular season with 36 goals and 66 points in 37 games, while Ryan Hunter finished with 25 goals and 61 points in 27 games. The Miners had six players who finished the season with at least a point per game this year.
Schedule: The Miners will face the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Pickering Panthers in the tournament opener on May 19 at noon. Then they play the Bandits on May 21 at noon, the Bruins on May 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Collège Français de Longueuil on May 24 at 7:30 p.m.
PICKERING PANTHERS (Ontario Junior Hockey League)
How they qualified: The Panthers were the final team to qualify for the Centennial Cup, as they only punched their ticket on Sunday after a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Junior A Canadiens in Game 7 of the OJHL final.
The Panthers had the second-best record in the 21-team OJHL during the regular season, finishing with a mark of 39-11-0-4.
Players to watch: Ian Martin is the team’s top scorer in the regular season with 27 goals and 56 points in 52 games. Their top four scorers in the regular season were separated by one point.
The Panthers feature one of the great stories of the tournament in defenceman Owen Brady, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. He finished this season with a goal and seven assists in 36 games. Brady was the subject of a TSN documentary named Relentless.
Pickering’s coach is former NHLer Rob Pearson. Pearson is this year’s recipient of the Darcy Haugan-Mark Cross Memorial Award, which goes to the national junior A coach of the year. Haugan and Cross were the coaches killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in 2018; Haugan played and coached in Estevan, while Cross played in Estevan for three seasons.
Schedule: The Panthers will open the tournament on May 19 at noon against Red Earth. Then they will play the Bruins on May 21 at 7:30 p.m., Collège Français de Longueuil on May 22 at 7:30 p.m., and the Bandits on May 24 at noon.
COLLÈGE FRANÇAIS DE LONGUEIUL (Ligue de Hockey Junior AAA du Quebec)
How they qualified: Longueiul was the No. 2-ranked team in the country at the start of the playoffs, thanks to a 41-4-3 record during the regular season in the 12-team circuit.
They defeated Cégep Beauce-Appalaches Condors in five games in the league final, and were one of the first teams to qualify for nationals.
Players to watch: The club is led by Maxime Gagne, who had 40 goals and 94 points in 39 games, which was 10 more goals and 32 more points than teammate Owen Stammer. Gagne finished with 172 penalty minutes, while Stammer had 147.
Schedule: Longueiul will open the tournament on May 19 at 7:30 p.m. when they play the Bandits in a battle of the top two teams in the country during the regular season, and then they play the host Bruins the following night at 7:30 p.m. Then they meet the Panthers at 7:30 p.m. on May 22 and the Miners on May 24, also at 7:30 p.m.